Tips for Succeeding in Business and Life

Throughout my 30-plus-year tenure at Alberto Culver (in senior leadership roles, including Executive Chairperson), as well as during my time serving on philanthropic boards (Northwestern Memorial Healthcare, Northwestern and Tulane Universities, Chicago Community Trust), I’ve often been asked, “What does it take to succeed in business?” After all these years, I’ve become quite adept at answering this particular question and have even pulled together a list of my top words of wisdom. In my experience, these are the ultimate keys to success in any field.

Attitude is key. The person who is committed passionately to the success of a business—who has an I-Can-Do-It attitude—will succeed. One person can make a tremendous difference, and it’s up to you to demonstrate that you are one of those people.

Fight for your ideas and do something big. The best idea can disappear without a strong advocate. Being an advocate for change involves taking risks. Don’t be afraid to be visible and stand out. In short: Take the lead in making a difference.

Nice guys don’t finish last, they win! Aggressive and passionate shouldn’t equate with unpleasant—ever. The higher you rise, the more pleasant and understanding you need to be. Never underestimate the value of thanks and the value of recognition. Build consensus and direct groups the way you want them to go through reason, courtesy and team building. Ego has no place in business. If you have one, lose it.

When you’re furious with others, look inside and see if you’re really dissatisfied with yourself. A person who always lays blame is soon cut out of team activities.

Credibility is everything. Some of the most important, career-saving words I have ever heard are, “I don’t know.” Never, ever fake it. If you’re wrong, admit it and correct it. If you’ve made a mistake, fix it and learn from it. If it’s going to take some time to find an answer, set a timetable and stick to it.

Have the courage to do what is right, even when it’s not popular, and to chase your dreams with passion and unwavering tenacity.

If you never fail, you’ll never grow. If it’s always comfortable and easy, you’ll never know the big win. You learn best when being stretched. Don’t sit back. Reach out, get involved and take a risk. When I interview a candidate, I always ask, “Is there anything you wish you hadn’t done? Is there a time that you failed at something you tried?” The best talent has a ton to tell me. Those who have softball answers never took the risk.

Excerpted from Gather As You Go with permission.